Red Sox centerfielder Kiké Hernández
Centerfield is another spot where the Red Sox haven’t been getting production, ranking 27th in the majors with 72 wRC+ from that position.
Kiké Hernández sputtered out of the gate, hitting a woeful .193 in April. His batting average slowly crept up to .209 by early June, but then he landed on the Injured List. What was initially diagnosed as a hip flexor strain turned into an abdominal strain created by a hematoma in the psoas muscle. He ended up missing over two months, a far longer absence than originally expected.
The extended IL stint was more troubling than one might expect from a player flirting with the Mendoza Line, but the notoriously streaky Hernández was bound to snap out of his funk eventually. He showed promising signs of recovering from his slow start by collecting hits in 15 of his final 16 games prior to his stint on the IL.
Since returning on August 16, Hernandez is hitting .244 with a .667 OPS in 86 at-bats. He hasn’t been great at the plate, but that’s about league-average for centerfielders and far better than what Boston produced from the position this season.
Hernández has been at his best with runners in scoring position, hitting .301 in 83 at-bats. Those opportunities were limited when he was hitting at the top of the lineup but Kiké has moved down in the order since returning from injury with Tommy Pham claiming the leadoff role during his absence. That has led to more chances to drive in runs and Hernández is thriving in those situations.
Jarren Duran had the opportunity to cement a spot for himself while Hernández was recovering, but the rookie failed to take advantage. Duran hit .220 with a .658 OPS in 57 games before riding the bus back to Worcester. His 28.8 K% was an improvement from his brief stint in the majors last year but it still showed Duran has a lot to learn about plate discipline if he’s going to succeed at this level.
More troubling were Duran’s adventures in the outfield. The converted infielder has the tools to cover centerfield with his blazing speed being an appealing asset but he’s still learning the position. Losing a routine pop-up in the sun is an embarrassing disaster that we won’t soon forget but his defensive issues extend beyond that memorable moment. Duran doesn’t get a good jump on the ball and he often takes poor routes, preventing him from making the play even with his speed.
Even when Hernández isn’t hitting, he’s still providing excellent defense, not only in center, but also at several other positions all over the field. But the outfield defense, in particular, benefits greatly when he’s anchoring the alignment.
A full season from Hernández would have drastically improved the outfield defense, which the pitching staff would certainly be grateful for. He also provides more potential with his bat than the alternatives who were filling in for him. A healthy Hernández also would have allowed the Red Sox to keep Duran in Triple-A to continue working on his plate discipline and polishing his defense. The Red Sox say they’re still optimistic about Duran’s potential, but he was exposed during his premature call-up, which had negative short-term consequences for the team and potentially long-term concerns for his development.